A Blast from the Past: Reliving Gym Class from the 1980s


For Halloween, my two fellow PE teachers and I wanted to dress up for our school’s annual costume contest.  We wanted to enter the “team” category but couldn’t nail down a theme.  That is, until I saw the video below for the Goldbergs TV show.  

This gem of a clip, inspired us to portray PE teachers from the early 1980’s.  We crafted our costumes based on our own memories of PE teachers we experienced growing up.  I personally searched the internet and was shocked that I could still find the original Bike brand polyester shorts that my high school teacher wore religiously.  The shorts even had the button strap on top, and their trademark tiny pockets that, today would be ideal for a fit bit zip, but I think our teachers may have just had an emergency quarter for a payphone.  Unfortunately the only available sizes were nowhere small enough for the classic 80s fit so I had to settle for the next best thing, Wilson. Pointless pockets were there but no button strap. I later found the 5-panel foam/mesh trucker’s cap fashioned by my aforementioned grade school teacher on days we had PE outdoors.  Didn’t every teacher don the 3-striped tube socks hiked up to the knees?  Of course.  So, along with my aviator glasses, a stop watch, a pair of very white sneakers, and a red playground ball, my costume was complete.  PE Teacher:  1982.  My colleagues and I immediately drew a lot of attention, as expected.  Unexpected was the array of reactions from parents, teachers, and students throughout the day.

Here are some of the comments:

  1. Wow!  I had a PE teacher just like that growing up.
  2. Can I tell you how much I hated PE growing up?
  3. Your shorts aren’t short enough for the 80’s.
  4. I am still haunted by the bruises I received playing dodge ball.
  5. Why DID they wear those shorts?
  6. I loved PE.  I miss those days.
  7. Are you kidding me with that outfit?
  8. Can we play dodge ball right now?
  9. What are you supposed to be?
  10. Or one of my favorites:  The sound of awkward, uneasy laughter.

Number 9 was the common response from our 1st-6th grade students, usually coupled by either a confusing or disgusted look. In fact, late in the day a first grade student asked, “Why are you still wearing that?”  Poor thing was frightened. Sorry guys!

To be honest, there were as many people who reminisced on their time in PE and shared stories of physical educators who were kind and caring while promoting healthy habits.

We truly enjoyed traveling back to the past and listening to the countless stories from our colleagues and parents regarding their experiences in “gym class” as it was often called.  It made me wonder how my present day and former students will remember me years down the road.  Hopefully, as fondly as I recall my elementary school gym teacher growing up.  He was funny, challenging, and very creative!  Thanks Mr. Meilinger.

As a side note, I now realize why PE teachers wore the polyester shorts.  They are SO comfortable!  If they make a come back, I’m in.  Let me know about your childhood Gym Class experiences…

The Goldbergs: Sneak Peek.YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2015.

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4 Comments on “A Blast from the Past: Reliving Gym Class from the 1980s

  1. I started teaching in 1979. I have never used dodgeball and I never will. Why do so many people make it sound so much worse than it was. There were many of us teaching fitness and healthy lifestyle back then.

  2. Thank you for reminding me of the good ol’ days! I remember vividly learning the meaning of “head on a swivel” during the game of circle dodgeball. We played with two playground balls at a time and you had to be aware of both balls at all times…or else you would be a sitting duck! I’m glad we have changed our PE practices, so students entering our PE classes in 2015 feel confident and safe playing the wide-variety of activities that we teach! Thanks JC for the flashback!

  3. Justin, Thank you for sharing this. To be honest, there were as many people who reminisced on their time in PE and shared stories of physical educators who were kind and caring while promoting healthy habits. So often we notice the small things that are not going well and forget to notice the big things that are.

    I could replace PE with Algebra I and tell stories about the myriad of reactions from parents, colleagues, and students. Many love to recount the worst parts of their experiences in math. Like you, I choose to dwell in the positive of impact and lifelong habits.

  4. I was fortunate to have a PE teacher, my dad, who eradicated dodge ball and duck, duck, goose from the curriculum to teach skills and develop healthy bodies. I am glad that the “costumes” have changed and that keeping kids active, teaching skills for lifelong fitness, and development of a positive sense of self are the goals.

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